Worth a read today is Jeff Jarvis writing about the blurring between news and advertising content. He argues that advertising that looks like news content is bad because of:
- Inconsistency in the ethics of news organizations that do this.
- Conflicts of interest between advertisers and news.
- Brand value losses for news organizations.
His bottom line: “My advice to news organizations: Move out of the content — and sponsored content — business and get into the service business, where content is just one of your tools to serve the public.”
The only dissonance in his Buzzfeed argument comes when he uses Google as an example of a company that does it right because, among other things, it bans advertorial content at news.google.com. As he writes: “Google is taking over huge swaths of the ad market by providing service to users and sharing risk with advertisers, not by selling its soul in exchange for this quarter’s revenue, as some news organizations are doing.”
Google’s dominance in online advertising is among the many reasons why more news organizations feel pressured to create more advertorial content, even at the soul-selling expense of long-term intangibles such as credibility and influence.
What’s missing in his sentence is the reminder that Google isn’t in the news content creation business. It’s in the service business — of serving other people’s content to audiences. It’s just the best middleman ever. But Google wouldn’t prosper without content to aggregate, and the battle is over how to value that content.
News organizations’ Faustian bargain with Google means the search engine sends traffic to their content, and Google makes money doing it even as it puts downward pressure on online ad rates. (Here are reasons in favor and against the relationship, an argument that publishers are really to blame, and Google’s response. The reasons really don’t matter, because this bell cannot be unrung, even as I used Google to find many of the links for this post.) Still, note that in Germany, after an uproar from news organizations, Google does not sell advertising on its news site and can only provide snippets of third-party content.